A Review of OK Orchestra

AJR has released their fourth album—their most personal and musically technical one yet.

The+album+art+for+%22OK+Orchestra%2C%22+AJR%27s+fourth+album.+The+art+was+designed+by+illustrator+and+character+designer+Rafael+Gandine+and+modeled+by+Jader+Souza.

via @ajrbrothers on Instagram

The album art for “OK Orchestra,” AJR’s fourth album. The art was designed by illustrator and character designer Rafael Gandine and modeled by Jader Souza.

Jess Daninhirsch, Junior Photography Editor

AJR, the band made up of the three New York native brothers Adam, Jack, and Ryan Metzger, has released their fourth album, OK Orchestra, on March 26, 2021. This brilliant band of brothers got their start by recording music from their living room, using instruments and technology purchased using their earnings from busking in Central Park. Since their first album, Living Room, released in 2015, they have truly found their style and a dedicated fanbase–one for which they love and care. OK Orchestra is full of lyrically and musically intricate reflections from their journey over the past year as well as pivotal moments from their childhoods to which many listeners can relate.  

Spotify

OK Overture

Fitting for any orchestra, the album begins with an overture that combines almost all of the songs within the album. The song begins with a voice describing how their drums turn into their melody–a technique used throughout the album. The band likes to experiment with making instruments sound like other instruments or even voices. The music video shows the title of each song as they pull different pieces of each one to create “OK Overture.”

Bummerland

Bummerland” was released in late August of last year, although they teased it at their drive-in concerts in Philadelphia two weeks before. This song was revolutionary for the band. The bridge features a never-before-heard technique in which they digitally transition different instruments and voices into one another seamlessly. You can’t tell the precise moment when one instrument stops and the next one starts, but it creates a stunning effect. 

This song, like some other songs on the record, was inspired by being stuck in quarantine for a year. At the beginning of the pandemic, we all thought things would get better by the summer, but unfortunately, we all had to “nix our summer plans.” However, the song puts a positive spin on being quarantined and provides sympathy for everyone in isolation. The most beautiful thing about AJR’s music is how it can bring people together.

The track list for “OK Orchestra” (via @ajrbrothers on Instagram)

3 O’Clock Things

The third line in this song, “Your eyes are tired, but keep ‘em open,” is a reference to the opening line in their previous album Neotheater: “Your eyes are open, so never close them.” The road between their 2019 album and OK Orchestra has been a long and bumpy one–full of ups, downs, and a global pandemic–but the band has persisted with their career. AJR loves to hide Easter eggs within their music, proving their strength as songwriters. Many of their songs across all four of their albums discuss similar themes, but they all have different feelings associated with the music. This track also features a jazzy repetition of the chorus in what sounds like a 1940s recording. OK Orchestra pulls a lot of inspiration from big band music from that era.

“3 O’Clock Things,” similar to their previously released single “Bang!”, is about trying to fit into society. It can be particularly hard for someone to fit in when all they want to talk about is politics, social justice issues, and college debt.

My Play

“My Play” hits close to home for any listeners with divorced parents. The story centers around a child wanting to show his parents the play he created, but it always seems that no one is there to pay attention to him. And if they are, it’s usually just one parent and not both. Most of the song is from the perspective of the child, but there are pieces from his current perspective as a young man trying to find love. He wonders about the point of finding love if it just dies anyway, just as it did for his parents, and if it would be better just to stick with someone for the sake of a child even if there is no love left.

The music video is reminiscent of the childlike innocence when the parents first get divorced, for the video is depicted in animations of whimsical drawings. The child hopes that his play will distract his parents from any arguments they may be having.

Joe

As Ryan described in an Instagram live video, “Joe” is about an older kid he knew in his childhood–someone he idolized and was constantly trying to impress. As the narrator grows older and goes on to have a successful career, although he claims to never think of Joe anymore, he is still in the back of his mind wherever he goes. No matter how great his songs are or how much his fans love him, the narrator will still subconsciously hope that Joe sees him and gives him the validation he sought.

Adventure Is Out There

The lyrics of this song may feel familiar to anyone dreaming of traveling and going on adventures but is stuck in a pandemic. However, just listening to this whimsical song makes you feel like you’re on an adventure of your own or in a movie scene.

Bang!

Believe it or not, the biggest inspiration behind the writing of their hit single “Bang!”, which was released in February of 2020, was quinoa. The song aims to capture the transition between childhood and adulthood, and the first step for them was moving out into their own place and making their own healthy food. Ryan told Billboard, “We’re in this weird transition between childhood and adulthood, and we’re doing all the things that our parents did. We’re eating healthy food and we’re paying our taxes, and yet, it doesn’t quite feel right yet.” But no matter how they navigate the adult world, they’ll do so with a positive attitude while pretending they know what they’re doing and going out with a bang.

Directed by Se Oh, the Wes Anderson-inspired music video for this song is one of five from this album so far. The brothers are seen hosting a game in a casino, and as the camera zooms out, the eccentric players are visible. The camera zooms in again every time the song says “Bang, bang bang!”, and the camera zooms out again to show the players in new costumes. Fitting with the song itself, the video captures the bewildering nature of the middle ground between childhood and adulthood.

(left to right) Ryan, Jack, and Adam Metzger (Austin Roa, @austinroa on Instagram)

The Trick

This song is about getting swept up in a lie that started as a white lie but ended up avalanching into an entire identity. The high-pitched voice in the track is representative of the liar who feels as though they have to make their life seem more interesting than it is to fit in with their friends. Eventually, the narrator drags down those closest to them into the lie of which they can no longer get out.

Ordinaryish People (feat. Blue Man Group)

At this point in the story, the band has accepted that they might not fit into society, but that’s okay, because who needs ordinaryish people anyway? Why not stand out from the crowd? This song features the classic AJR trumpets, but combined with the jazzy 1940s big band feel and Blue Man Group’s masterful percussion, this is sure to be an unforgettable OK Orchestra track.

Humpty Dumpty

A good follow-up to a song about being yourself and not caring what others think, “Humpty Dumpty” is about smiling through struggles. However, the narrator is still putting on a façade and waiting until they’re alone to display their emotions. This can be particularly hard when they’re in the public eye. 

World’s Smallest Violin

This track feels like it came right from the show-stopping dance number in a big Broadway show. It even starts out with a bunch of voices matching the pitch of the first word like an orchestra tuning their instruments before a show. Many of AJR’s songs are about going to therapy and the trials and tribulations associated with dealing with mental health. This song talks about how even though there are people in the world who have accomplished so much or have endured the toughest situations, your life is still valid. Your accomplishments, problems, and grievances are important, no matter how big or small. And it’s important to find the right person who will listen to your problems and applaud your accomplishments, no matter the size. It’s okay to complain about little things because your feelings are valid, and you don’t have to feel guilty for having these emotions. This track in particular makes listeners feel good about themselves, in part because of the music itself.

Way Less Sad

With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. It will still be a long process to be in the clear in terms of the pandemic, but things are looking up. After a year of self-discovery, although the guys might not be completely happy yet, they are much happier than they were at the beginning stages of the pandemic. Despite all of the terrible news and comments spread around Twitter, even that can’t bring down their mood. Although the music video features a scene that shows as if the guys are drowning in a water-filled elevator, it also features plenty of scenes from places associated with happiness, such as a merry-go-round and even the guys pushing each other around on a luggage cart. Things still seem to be zooming all around them, but at least they can finally enjoy the ride.

Christmas in June

After missing out on a full year’s worth of moments and holidays with friends and family, the album ends with a reflective piece about this same feeling of missing out but from the perspective of a normal, non-pandemic year. At the end of this journey of self-discovery throughout the album, the narrator realizes the importance of balancing work and personal relationships, especially after understanding the importance of having an audience for his tiny violin. He wants to be there for his loved ones, but his career is calling him too. He never knows where life will take him, but he is determined to be there for the moments that count.

Every moment portrayed in this album tugs on the listeners’ heartstrings, and AJR’s journey is fascinating to follow. Overall, OK Orchestra is exactly what we needed in times like these.